Recently, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch said in an interview that he only wanted “thin and beautiful” people to wear his clothes, which is why the largest woman’s size their stores carry is a 10.
The outcry has been predictable, and loud, and well deserved.
One of the more popular responses is a video titled “Abercrombie & Fitch gets a Brand Readjustment”(above). The video consists of a man handing out Abercrombie and Fitch clothing to persons who are homeless, as a ‘snub’ to the clothing brand. Because, after all, what could be worse than seeing clothes made for the beautiful people on poor people?
The only reason this “works” as humor is because we see people who are experiencing homelessness as “the other”, as someone who is different than us, and not only different, but offensive. It should, we are saying, offend Abercrombie and Fitch that “these” people are wearing our clothes.
If you doubt this, consider how you would feel about this story if, instead of “homeless people”, the story was that a man shot a video that sought to offend the brand by giving its clothes to black people or gay people. The internet would be in an outrage, rightfully calling the video racist or homophobic.
But give the clothes to homeless people and the Huffington Post calls it a “funny and creative way to readjust the Abercrombie & Fitch brand.”
This is wrong. It is, to use a word I do not use lightly, evil. It is stigmatizing an already stigmatized group in order to “strike back” at a brand that let you down. One of our idols failed us, and so we critique them by shooting video of vulnerable people wearing their clothes in order to lampoon the brand.
I mentioned on Social Media that I have a problem with the video, and several folks implied I was being overly sensitive. After all, the narrative, the story, is that A & F is bad, and they must be punished. And after all, homeless folks need clothes, right? The guy meant well, after all.
No. This is really a story about us. About our wanting to believe that we are just and good and, dare I say it, holy. And that any cause we champion is just and good and holy as well, and after all, we are helping out some homeless folks who need clothes…
It is never okay to stigmatize people in the defense of your cause – no matter how just or good it is. It is never okay to use poor people – or, in fact, any people, as props or object lessons or teaching tools. Ever.
People who are experiencing homelessness are people. They are not extras in a movie about you.
Hugh Hollowell is a minister in the Mennonite Church USA based in Raleigh, N.C. He is the founder and director of Love Wins Ministries, which tackles the problems of homelessness by focusing on relationships, not outcomes.